As wildfires continue to force hundreds from their home communities in search of safety, provincial command has been activated through Saskatchewan Public Safety’s Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) to streamline the fire response across northern Saskatchewan.
Correction, Policing, and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell said the activation of the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre was established to provide a central point to coordinate the operational response of provincial ministries, agencies and Crown corporations.
There are currently 24 active wildfires burning in the province, a majority of which are believed to be human-caused, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA).
As of 4 p.m. on May 17, ten wildfires were undergoing assessment, eight were contained, five were not contained and one was classified as protecting property.
The biggest cause for concern is the 77,000-hectare Shaw fire in the northwest area of the province, which has grown by an estimated 25,000 hectares since the beginning of the week.
During a media conference on Wednesday afternoon, SPSA land operations executive director Brian Chartrand said with current conditions, the Shaw fire will continue to grow until the province sees some reprieve with rain.
Firefighting ground crews and heavy equipment are battling the blaze to protect communities, infrastructure and resources, but heavy smoke has “hampered operations” for helicopters and air tankers, said Chartrand.
High-risk individuals are being forced to evacuate from Buffalo Narrows and Ile-a-la-Crosse due to the wildfire smoke, which has also prompted Environment Canada to issue special air quality statements for most of Saskatchewan.
The Shaw fire has forced the closure of Highways 155 and 925, but the SPSA is ensuring affected northern communities continue to have access to food and fuel by escorting delivery trucks through the closed roads.
There is currently no timeline available for when evacuees are expected to be able to return to their homes, said Chartrand.
Mail service has been suspended in some locations due to the wildfires and evacuations. Canada Post issued red delivery alerts Wednesday for the communities of Beauval, Clearwater, Ile-a-la-Crosse, Island Lake and Turnor River.
All residents not under a fire ban are encouraged to take extra precautions not to start fires, including not parking on dry grass, limiting ATV use and being responsible with open fire.
On Monday, a fire ban was issued for Crown lands and provincial parks north of Highway 16 due to hot, dry conditions and an extreme fire risk.
According to the SPSA, there have been 169 wildfires in Saskatchewan so far in 2023, double the amount normally seen by this time of year.